Archive for June, 2010

A Note on Routes

June 20th, 2010 by hughillustration

A route map from 2006!

Note: There will be a pre-Mass ride to route scout on Monday, the 21st, at 7:00pm. Meet at Dolores Park, across from the Dolores Park Cafe. And bring your bike!

Last month, someone I know threw a route together on his own initiative and sent it to me, and I posted it here. The month before, I and others suggested we visit the Palace of Fine Arts as our final destination.

In each case, I heard from a few people that they felt the use of a route or destination was uncharacteristic of Critical Mass. As on person said on our Facebook page, “I thought the whole idea of doing CM was that the route is not fixed. IMHO, wIth a fixed route there is no fun doing CM.” Another said “the Mass is supposed to be democratic and spur of the moment, at least how I have experienced it for the last 10 years.”

It’s true that we haven’t had many route maps in the past 10 years (the last I recall was in 2006, on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and that was a rarity), but in the early days of Critical Mass we did them all the time. Each month we would visit a different location — the Presidio, Ocean Beach, Twin Peaks, even Sausalito were destinations. We didn’t always stick to the script, but we definitely mixed it up.

As the commentators noted, this isn’t the most democratic way of deciding where the ride will go. But I would argue that neither is having the handful at the front of the ride make the decisions for everyone behind them. In my experience, the people at the front are universally loud, aggressive and male (and I include myself in this description). What about people who may not be so loud and opinionated? What about the folks in back?

Another disadvantage of spontaneity is that we seem to visit the same locations each month. For the last 5 years, we have been through the Broadway Tunnel and Union Square almost every time, as well as several other familiar locations. We rarely get out to the avenues or other neighborhoods — and that’s too bad, since we want the people of San Francisco to see us!

One solution is to try doing what the San Jose Bike Party does, which is regular bike rides to route scout beforehand. This way we have a route, but many people who are interested can contribute to the conversation. Also, we can use the Facebook and Twitter feeds, and the comments on this blog, to throw around ideas. And, if the route is unworkable, it can always be switched up by the riders. Nothing is ever set in stone, and all routes are just suggestions. (And we don’t need to have a route every month!)

So, as I noted above, there’s a pre-Mass ride scheduled for Monday the 21st at Dolores Park at 7:00. In the future, we’ll try to make these semi-regular, but you can get updates via Facebook & Twitter.

If you and your friends have thoughts about what direction Critical Mass should take, I am eager to get your voice out there. Post something in the comments, send me ideas to me here, or post to Facebook or Twitter and I will try to help circulate your feedback. We can use social networking, blogs, and face-to-face meetings to make Critical Mass as democratic and decentralized as possible.

Group Rides — Not Just for Scofflaws Anymore!

June 13th, 2010 by hughillustration

The Critical Manners crew on Larkin (photo by Hugh)

You know what’s interesting about our contemporary bike culture? All these proliferating group rides. It seems that Critical Mass no longer has a monopoly on the fantastic idea of riding somewhere on bikes together!

There’s the San Jose Bike Party, of course, and the brand new East Bay Bike Party. But there are also lots of smaller rides — numbering anywhere from 10-50 people — that meet on a regular or semi-regular basis to try variations on this tactic.

For example, there’s the super fun Butterlap. It meets every Wednesday at the Ferry Building at 6:30pm, and takes off along the Embarcadero before heading up to the Palace of Fine Arts and points beyond (it’s the same excellent route each time), before looping back to the Mission. A word of warning: don’t bring your tank-like 3-speed cruiser, like I did, or you will be sorry!

The Butterlap crew on Page Street (photo by Meli)

And this month saw the return of Critical Manners, the group bike ride that bills itself as a lawful, polite alternative to Critical Mass. Chris, Nio and I joined up with the other CM outside the library on Larkin, and a small group of about 15 of us rode together up through the Wiggle and into the park, stopping to visit the anti-Arco/BP protest at Fell & Diviz (also a new regular event, every Friday).

Critical Manners on the Wiggle (photo by Hugh)

The anti-BP/Arco Protest will be every Friday! (Photo by Hugh)

Along the way we stopped for most stop signs and all red lights, which was actually kind of a fun exercise for me. (However, I noticed that Chris was totally unable to get with the program, and continued to just blast right through every traffic stop he came to, as usual. Some people are just born scofflaws!*)

Hugh making friends as Critical Manners gathers (photo by Chris Carlsson)

It might surprise some people to hear that I enjoyed Critical Manners, since I am a loud and strident supporter of Critical Mass. But I did have a good time, and I met some nice people. Personally, I think there is room in San Francisco for all kinds of rides for all kinds of people. Critical Manners will definitely appeal to those who are uncomfortable with Critical Mass’s habit of running red lights and generally raising a ruckus — and for those people, Critical Manners is a great chance to experience a group ride!

If you’re curious, I totally suggest tagging along on the next one. The folks who were there were nice and friendly, and they seem committed to keeping their ride going. They’ll be meeting every 2nd Friday of the month at Larkin and Grove at 5:30 or 6.

That said, there is a crucial ingredient that I feel is missing on these smaller rides, and that is sociability! When you’re riding single file, and only occasionally two abreast — basically any time you’re not taking the whole lane — it’s pretty hard to have a conversation. You certainly can’t mingle and socialize easily. Both Butterlap and Critical Manners in my experience weren’t the intensely social experience that Critical Mass is. The experience is much closer to a normal day biking around town. Which is to say: more or less solitary, marginalized, and dangerous.

That is really the great thing about Critical Mass: we bring a transformation to the city. One day a month, you can ride through San Francisco streets without feeling like you are some sort of second-class traffic citizen! And you can explore the city in the company of hundreds of others, and have long conversations while you do it — all without fear of being run down or slammed by a car door. It’s this experience of a city transformed that only a really large ride, like Critical Mass or the San Jose Bike Party, can bring. And that transformation is what it’s really all about.

May a thousand rides bloom!

* Many people are outraged at bicyclists that ride the way Chris and I habitually do, treating stop signs as yield signs and most red lights as yellow lights. I can see their point. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone obeyed the law? I suggest that we start by insisting that those driving the most dangerous vehicles pay strict attention to the letter of the law — and that means obeying the speed limit at all times! This seemingly universal habit that car drivers have of completely ignoring speed limits is not only rude, corrupt, and evidence of a lack of respect for the police and the rule of law, it is also deadly! Speeding directly causes thousands of deaths and injuries each year. Once we have all or most motorists driving the speed limit, then we can turn our attention to the relatively minor problem of bicycle scofflaws.